What with President Obama feting Iraqi war veterans at the White House last night, you’d think the war was over. But over at the war profiteer banquet, it’s still a cash-engorged jamboree, the spigot still delivering Enron-sized billions.
Two weapons developed under emergency circumstances to support the troops for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have done their part in breaking the bank: unmanned drones and counter-improvised explosive devices. Despite budget pressures and cutbacks though, they just can’t make their own transition to peacetime. They hide behind the troops, whom everyone is afraid to short-change or put on a spending diet.
One’s gotta ask whether the future threat justifies the activity and the level-of-effort is still required. Ironically if the answer is yes, perhaps we should be taking much more seriously the long war advocates so lovingly eying the future and licking their chops for more.
The problem in assessing these two weapons is that they are not big identifiable pieces of hardware in a conventional sense, not ships or fighter planes or tanks. They are more systems (or even processes), demanding pockets of hardware spending, enormous information technology and software spending, communications demands, and various analysis efforts.
Take the effort to counter-IEDs. In the latest General Accountability Office report Opportunities to Reduce Duplication, Overlap and Fragmentation, Achieve Savings, and Enhance Revenue, the grotesque billion dollar levels of duplication and waste are handled in that sort of gentile way that the GAO is famous for: not enough life rafts on the Titanic (the audit of the sinking ship approach) or too many entities working on the same efforts, no matter how asinine (the do we need three ray guns to shoot down UFOs approach).
The GAO reminds us, that “The threat of improvised explosive devices (IED) continues to be a major concern in Afghanistan, as well as to other areas throughout the world with over 500 reported IED events per month worldwide outside of Southwest Asia according to Department of Defense (DOD) officials.” I won’t even go into the definitional shenanigans that go into making up that 500 number, but suffice it to say everything and anything that goes bang in the world is now labeled an IED, inflating the ‘threat’ to the U.S. military.
Congress has appropriated over $18 billion to the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), created in 2006. Not only are there several “examples of duplication,” the GAO says, but outside of the JIEDDO, the DOD agencies and military services are all spending our money on their own on the problem and no one has full visibility over all of the program or knows how much. The report says that six different directed energy systems – laser, high-powered microwave – are being developed to neutralize IEDs. The GAO never says WTF with regard to whether any are really needed, but does say that none have actually been deployed to the war zone, the war profiteers in their third decade of research, attaching their programs to whatever problem of the day justifies more money. Multiple efforts of duplication are also noted in the development of a ground-based jammer to counter-IEDs. Despite the fact that the Navy was assigned responsibility to develop the main jammer, the Army went ahead and developed its own, called DUKE, which the GAO says, will cost $1.062 billion when completed and installed. The situation with some 70 electronic data collection and analysis tools that are being developed for counter-IED intelligence work is just as bad. Even when the JIEDDO canceled development of one system, the Defense Intelligence Agency decided to continue to fund the same system.
The situation with unmanned aircraft systems is even more chaotic and expensive. The GAO estimates that the cost of current unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) acquisition programs and related systems will exceed $37.5 billion in fiscal years 2012 through 2016. While most attention is focused on Predator and its up-powered cousin Reaper, these systems represent only about two percent of the 6,000 plus unmanned systems the services have purchased since 9/11. And like counter-IED work, the money doesn’t just go into the airframes. The GAO found 29 different sensor types being developed to put on various systems. In just one case, the GAO found that if the Army and Air Force had joined development for one system that was identical, $1.2 billion could have been saved.
There’s always some reason why common approaches weren’t pursued, why consolidation efforts faltered, why management devices floundered. Maybe it would be useful for the vets themselves to speak out on this cash-laden travesty, but then, that’s not going to happen when so many go to work for the very companies who make the cash.